Supply shortages are testing relationships in the housing industry



BALLSTON SPA – When shelves started emptying in hardware stores last year as the pandemic tightened its grip, Curtis Lumber still had stocks – but they weren’t available to everyone.

Curtis does 60% of its business with professional clients. Many of these business relationships with home builders and renovators go back decades. Curtis management has prioritized these customers, aiming to fill their orders where possible – before taking orders from builders who rarely or never did business with Curtis before the pandemic began.

“We are a local and private business,” said Jim Carpenter, chief marketing officer. “We were able to make investments that big box stores couldn’t so that we had inventory. “

On the flip side, Carpenter said, Curtis strived to pay all of his bills promptly in order to maintain good relationships with his suppliers. So whenever a plywood or stud cover became available, the company was on a short list of those who would get it.

For Jim Sasko, president of Teakwood Builders, the pandemic has been a lesson in patience. It has also changed the way he does business. At the same time as building materials became more expensive and more difficult to obtain, Sasko says Teakwood was getting more and more requests from customers looking to build additions, modernize kitchens and renovate bathrooms. It was tempting to take on more work than the company could handle, but Sasko knew it would mean more frustration for his team and dissatisfaction for customers if the work was not done well. He turned down jobs and started planning further than ever.

“With our vendors and suppliers, I recognize that they are providing the information they have on lead times and prices to the best of their ability,” Sasko said.

Teak wood and other builders have faced rationing. When Sasko learned there would be a limit on joint compound or insulation, he rented storage containers to park at job sites and racked up the supplies. Sasko’s description conjures up an image of nighttime crowds of guys in Carhartt overalls, jostling each other in the shadows and calling for bids for buckets of Dap.

Sasko knew his teams would use all the materials. He has stored supplies so that they are available when needed.

Almost 20 months later, the struggle for supplies continues. Although the cost of lumber fell to an all-time high in May and the handyman crowd at home improvement stores has thinned, flooring, cabinets, doors, plumbing, faucets , mirrors and glass are always expensive and slow to arrive, says Carpenter.

Sasko said he has adjusted to a new normal.

“If there was a benefit, we got better at planning, from contracting language to dealing with vendors like Curtis,” he said.

Forecasting, an inaccurate science, was the key. When Teakwood is about to close a deal that will require a lot of lumber, he is studying the future of lumber and listening to the experts.

“We survived by looking far ahead,” he said. “It didn’t kill us, but it’s always stressful to do it right.”

Nick Otterbeck, senior project planner for Otterbeck Builders in Castleton-on-Hudson, said he has observed suppliers are streamlining their product catalog. Items in stock could take a week or three to obtain, but special orders were nearly impossible.

“We will learn from our roofing contractor that a certain shingle has been dropped or that a siding supplier says the colors have been dropped,” said Otterbeck.

Carpenter noted that anything made with a petroleum product – vinyl siding, tubs, windows, luxury vinyl flooring, for example – has been slowed down by the many issues presented by the pandemic.

Otterbeck has learned that labor shortages have caused companies to focus on their most popular items. In June, Delta Faucet Company announced that it would “prioritize production to include” strategic collections and / or finishes across all brands “- Brizo, Delta and Peerless – while temporarily suspending production on others “.

The labor shortage is also affecting delivery, Otterbeck said. He described hearing from a supplier that an order was ready – but no one was available to make the delivery. At the start of the pandemic, Otterbeck himself made a few deliveries. Now it calculates the wait time in the project timeline.

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